Saturday Night Live: Tracy Morgan Hosts
For episode three, our host is former cast member and 30 Rock superstar Tracy Morgan. Morgan was in a serious car accident, which left him in critical condition, just sixteen months ago. In good news for comedy fans everywhere, Tracy has since made a full recovery, and in the last year he got married, made a wonderful speech at the Emmys, and is now hosting SNL. Yay! I’m very excited to see where this episode goes.
Democratic Debate: The top five candidates for the Democratic ticket take part in a debate hosted by Anderson Cooper. This one was a bit long perhaps, but it was a strong opening to the episode and maybe the funniest political sketch yet this season. When Alec Baldwin came out to play Jim Webb I assumed we’d reached peak cameo for the sketch, but then they upped the ante in a beautiful and perfect way by bringing out LARRY DAVID to play Bernie. Props to SNL, and props to my friend David who heard Bernie speak two words at the debate last week before turning to me and saying, “Does he sound like Larry David to you?” (Nailed it).
Every candidate here was portrayed near-perfectly, from Hillary’s desperation (“I really think you’re gonna like the Hillary Clinton that my team and I have created for this debate”) to Chafee’s innocence (“I used to be a senator, and that was fun. And now I’m here, and this is fun too!”) to essentially everything that came from David-as-Sanders’s mouth (“I don’t have a super PAC. I don’t even have a backpack. I carry my stuff around loose in my arms, like a professor”). The only weak spot was new guy Jon Rudnitsky, whose Anderson Cooper came off like a high school kid’s generic gay guy impression. Here’s hoping he gets some better material in episodes to come. Overall, though, I’d say this is definitely the strongest cold open of the season so far. (A-)
Monologue: “And I said: ‘Lorne, when I get back on my feet, I want to come home’” -- Tracy Morgan, turning all of us into human cry-face emojis. In his opening monologue, Morgan graciously acknowledged his accident and his happiness to be back and healthy, took a few shots at himself (“And people were wondering, ‘Can he speak? Does he have full mental capacity? And the truth is I never did! I might actually be a few points higher now!”), and then segued beautifully into a fake 30 Rock episode from 2012, complete with Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski, Jack McBrayer, and corner-of-the-screen promos for Smash. The monologue as a whole was a good blend of sentimentality and laughs, and a strong start to the show. (A-)
Family Feud: An episode of Family Feud features a recent divorcee and her three kids, paired against her ex-husband and his new family. This was a fairly funny concept that never quite panned out. The performers were game, but it felt like it was just a couple of stand-out one-liners away from working. As it was, it ran like a concept that never found the right script, and wound up finding neither a voice nor a proper ending. (C-)
Brian Fellow: A Safari-themed show featuring exotic animals is derailed by its stubborn and brassy host, who insists on discussing weird and incorrect facts with the animal wranglers he interviews. He’s back! Arguably Tracy Morgan’s most famous recurring character, Brian Fellow, was in fine form tonight. I’m a sucker for this particular character, so it was predictable that I would like the sketch, but Brian Fellow really held up, with his assertion that beavers definitely smoked cigarettes because his father, also a builder, was a smoker, and his insistence that “most people hate camels.” Ultimately, though, the real scene stealer was the camel itself, who presented its backside to camera in the latter half of the sketch, blocking Aidy Bryant and Tracy Morgan from the frame. Live TV! Props to Tracy for falling back on his improv skills and shouting “I can’t see, CAMEL” as he exited. (A)
Mitchell’s Fake Cocaine/Fake Poop Spray: A commercial for fake cocaine that a person can use at parties to explain why they’ve been in the bathroom so long, as well as for the accompanying poop-smelling spray they can use to defend the smell they left in the bathroom if anyone notices it. Not my favorite bit of the night, but not my least favorite either. In terms of this season’s commercial parodies, I’d rank it above Hands-Free Selfie Sticks and below Abilify for Republican Presidential Candidates. I think I’d have liked it better if it had just ended with the poop spray reveal and not included the bit about Beck Bennett taking a dump on Leslie Jones’s bed (and with that line I say, “Look, Dad! That creative writing degree was worth it! I’m getting my analysis of poop jokes published!”). (B)
Weekend Update: The Update jokes themselves were funnier this week, I thought; I definitely laughed out loud at more lines than I have in either of the previous Weekend Updates this season (“California! Come for the drought, stay for the burning forests full of murderers,” and “This would have never happened if the grandmother also had a gun” were two highlights). Ultimately, though, Jost and Che’s chemistry still isn’t fully there for me; Che shows glimmers of it with moments like his offhand frustration with Jost for spoiling the Mets-Cubs game, but there’s still a stiffness to Jost that I hope he can learn to shake soon (even though he’s now had multiple seasons to do so).
Lowlight of the Update portion was Kenan Thompson as Che’s neighbor Willie, a character we’ve seen before but whose bit felt particularly tasteless tonight. It’s a funny concept to have a character who has only fond memories of terrible life experiences, but once that character is recalling trapping people in a house with Jeffrey Dahmer then later eating them, it’s just offensive in a boring way-- the kind of joke a frat boy tries out on open mic night in the dining hall. Highlight of the Update portion, though, was definitely Tina Fey’s monologue in response to Playboy no longer running nude photos in their magazine. She opened by lamenting that young, beautiful women could no longer “work [their] way up the company ladder until one day [they get] invited to have an early bird fake five-way with a hundred-year-old sex monster,” and then closed it out by displaying the three poses she wishes she could have done in Playboy (“I was gonna do this one with just a half an Eagles jersey and tube socks”). Never change, Tina. (B+)
The Loveliest Kingdom: A group of townspeople in an olden village sing their thoughts about the beautiful morning before them, but when one townsperson derails the song with his strange thoughts, it inspires one local man to confess to sleeping with an 18-year-old boy. I’m just not really sure what the ultimate goal was for this one. It might have worked better if several townspeople had confessed to similarly sinful things after Taran Killam’s character confessed to sleeping with Rudnitsky’s character, but having him be the only one to confess, and then so briefly be forgiven and forgotten, sort of took away from whatever joke they were going for. Morgan showed some potential for the sketch with his weird non sequiturs in the first half (“I saw a horse take a whiz. It was insane!”), but I think he needed either more of these non sequiturs or more outrageous ones, because as it stood the sketch seemed like very little buildup followed by very little payoff. (C-)
The Standoff: When a man picks a fight with another man at a bar who hit on his girlfriend, he discovers that the target of his anger is taking the phrase “You wanna dance?” much more literally than he expected. I think this one could have been just a bit shorter, but other than that, I have no complaints. All performers were on top of their game, and I loved the little details, like the closeup on Tracy’s feet doing a turnout in his ballet shoes, and the way he moved a single jazz hand across his face as he confessed his love of dance. This one was funny but also oddly sweet, in a way. No person or concept was really being made fun of; it was just there to make us laugh. A nice start to the closing portion of the evening. (A-)
Yo! Where Jackie Chan at Right Now?: Two talk show hosts try to find out the location of ‘90’s action star Jackie Chan. I laughed out loud when the concept was introduced, but then assumed there was no way they could keep it going for more than a couple of jokes. I was delighted to be proven wrong. Kenan and Tracy began by further explaining the premise clearly stated in their show’s title (“Jackie Chan was in movies as well as karate. And now, no one knows where he is!”), then took calls from viewers who wonder aloud if Jackie is even alive, or whether he’s just in Asia (“We checked with Asia, and he’s not there”). They then interviewed a series of action stars, none of whom know of Chan’s location, and finally ended with Leslie Jones in her dressing room, who has seen Jackie Chan-- on E. 85th St. in 1997. The absurdity of the jokes meshed perfectly with Kenan and Tracy’s straightforward, almost monotone delivery, and the way they managed to escalate such a one-note joke was genuinely impressive. (A-)
Astronaut Jones: An astronaut with his own theme song lands on Mars and makes a pass at the alien who welcomes him. As this sketch opened, I assumed we were in for a mediocre The Martian parody, but was delighted to find the show simply using that concept as the catalyst for a reprisal of Morgan’s character Astronaut Jones. Jones is a top example of 12:55am sketches that catch you with their sheer randomness until you find yourself laughing out loud, and tonight’s incarnation was no exception. Jones feels like a pinnacle of Tracy Morgan’s humor-- occasionally overtly sexual/controversial, but mostly just silly-- and thus it was a perfect capper for an episode he hosted. Mostly I think I’m just a sucker for that jazzy little theme song. (A-)
Quotes, Extras, and Final Thoughts
- “So who do you want as President: one of these Washington insiders, or a guy who has one pair of clean underwear that he dries on a radiator?”
- “God, it must be fun to curse and scream in public. I have to do mine into tiny little jars.”
- “My show’s about animals, not lies and snottiness.”
- Thoughts on the musical guest: Demi sounded really good! I liked that her first song was all about badassery and her second song was all about emotion. I also liked how her first song costume was businesswoman in a porno on her right side and 1990’s ice skater on her left. Fun! This has been thoughts on the musical guest.
- “Girls need to learn coding and arm butts.” Young women, listen to your ruler Tina Fey (maybe more about the coding than the arm butts).
- “You don’t wanna dip me, bro? You don’t want to put a rose in my mouth?”
- If I give cast member of the week to Larry David, do you think he’ll come back and do Bernie impressions as long as Sanders stays in the race? If that’s against the rules, I’ll award it to Aidy Bryant for keeping her cool while almost getting attacked by a camel on live television.
That’s a wrap on episode 3! The show will be on hiatus for the next two weeks, and after that, Donald Trump hosts (Lord help us).